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According to Arab News, street sweepers in Jeddah only earn 400 riyals ($107; £82) per month, and rely on tips from passers-by to lift their income to a living wage, a fact not missed by people who the paper claims are largely “illegal foreign workers” looking for a slice of this largesse.
Street cleaners work an 11-hour day, six days a week, among rats and feral cats, journalist Essam Al-Ghalib writes. However, they can earn an extra 700 to 2,500 riyals per month in tips on top of the tiny salaries, with most of this extra coming from passing motorists motivated by “a sense of pity and charity”.
An official in charge of street cleaning in some Jeddah districts told the paper that there is a problem with imposters “obtaining uniforms and pretending to be street cleaners in order to get money”. This pretence involves loitering near traffic lights with a broom and a high-vis tabard, and pestering drivers when they stop at a red light.
While Saudi Arabia is home to some of the richest people in the world, unequal wealth distribution means that up to 20% of its citizens are living in poverty. While begging is commonplace and slum districts exist, a 2013 Time magazine feature says they are “largely hidden from sight”.
Social media users wondered why Saudi Arabia pays its public service workers so little, with one saying that the government “should show some respect to such workers”; while another said “This country has wealth in abundance yet it fails to pay humane salaries”.
One more eloquent commenter wrote about the fake cleaners, saying “It makes me angry to see some of these well fed goons with sporty beards and brooms jostling around the proximity of signals, and snap off handouts from the innocent public, like chameleons catching flies without a wisp of thanks.”
But one legitimately-employed cleaner “Mohammed” told Arab News how to avoid tipping the wrong people. “Those who want to give us a tip shouldn’t give to those who stand at traffic lights. If you want to give money, give it to the cleaners there who you actually see cleaning”.
Imposters pose as cleaners in attempt to pick up cash tips from members of the public.